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The Power of Suggestion
by Christa M. Miller

Mystery/Crime, 4 pages.
Originally Published in Shred of Evidence, 2007

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They’d been in the kiddie park for half an hour when Johnny decided to set the playhouse on fire. Matt didn’t want him to. He thought of the tiny kids, like his brother Sam, who would show up here tomorrow. They’d expect to play house inside, using their sippy cups and Goldfish for pretend tea parties. Instead they’d find a shell of charred wood, the smoke spiraling up to the sky like exorcised demons. Some would cry. Sam would be the first. “Sensitive,” Mom called him. Matt hated it when Sam cried. The tears welling in his brother’s eyes always made him feel powerless. Matt lived for the adoration in Sam’s eyes when Matt got it right.

But you didn’t tell stuff like that to Johnny. One, he’d kick the shit out of you. And two, he’d burn the house in front of the kids. Just to prove he didn’t care what they felt.

The rest of the park was wet with that afternoon’s rain, but the playhouse’s inside was dry. First the fire only licked the red paint on the floor. Then it caught the wood. Matt had to admit it smelled nice with the odor of damp cedar chips, but that was another thing Johnny wouldn’t want to hear. “Fag,” he’d snarl. Matt didn’t want to piss off Johnny now that he’d set a fire.

Johnny sat so close to the blaze that Matt was afraid his clothes might catch. Apparently Johnny thought so too. He stripped off his shirt and pants.

This was why Johnny didn’t have any friends besides Matt: he was weird. He pulled wings off flies and kicked cats and dogs. Once Matt had found him in the bare dirt of his backyard, blowing up frogs with homemade bombs. Right now he was passing his hand over the flames, as if he could feel no pain.

“I’m bored,” Johnny said. “Let’s go to your house.”

Matt shivered even though the fire’s heat reached him from fifteen feet away. Bored was the worst thing Johnny could be.

When he and Johnny first started hanging out, just after Johnny moved here last month, Matt had invited him to sleep over. Make him feel welcome, like there was one kid who wouldn’t laugh behind his back. Then there would be two of them to face the sports jocks and brain geeks.

But Johnny had refused. “What,” Matt had said, laughing, “ you wet the bed or something?”

He’d hardly known what was happening. One minute he was laughing; the next, struggling to breathe, keep from blacking out. “Don’t ever laugh at me,” Johnny had said, his voice a low flat monotone like Matt imagined a cyborg—a real cyborg, not the Terminator—would sound. Then Johnny let go, and Matt resolved never to follow through on his invitation. He also resolved to stay friends with Johnny. That way maybe he wouldn’t do anything truly evil... exc -- [End of Preview.]